Names of Months

Names of Months

Time and dates are unavoidable parts of our lives. It’s crucial to be able to orient in them and use them. 

The Roman world instilled the importance of time in the lives of many tribes and later nations and Latin based names of months have been  prevailing in European languages since the dominance of the Roman Empire. 

Let’s have a look at a random selection of European languages and the names of months there. You’ll find there languages of different language groups and therefore languages which differ in their lexicon and grammar significantly:

ENGLISH

GERMAN

ITALIAN

SLOVAK

RUSSIAN 

January 

Januar

gennaio 

Január

январь 

February 

Februar

febbraio 

Február

февраль 

March

März

marzo 

Marec

март

April 

April 

aprile 

April

апрель 

May 

Mai

maggio

Máj

май

June

Juni

giugno 

Jún

июнь 

July 

Juli

luglio 

Júl

июль 

August

August

agosto 

August

август 

September 

September 

settembre 

September

сентябрь 

October 

Oktober 

ottobre 

Október

октябрь 

November

November

novembre 

November

ноябрь 

December

Dezember

dicembre 

December

декабрь 

In the table above you could see English and German, which are members of Germanic languages. Next is Italian, the closest daughter of Latin and eventually two Slavic languages – western Slavic language – Slovak (which can be considered as a sister language to Czech because of their mutual intelligibility) and Russian, which is an Eastern Slavic language. 

All of the languages differ in grammar and in their lexicon significantly, however, the names of the months all resemble the original Latin variants. 

These languages are only a few examples, there are many other European languages which also use the Latin derivatives. 

However, in Slavic languages, it hasn’t been so all the time. (Well, it hasn’t been so in Germanic languages as well, but it’s another story.. In this text we are focused on Slavic languages.)

Slavic languages used the Old Slavic names for months. 

Therefore in Russian language January hasn’t been always январь /Yanvar/ but сечень /sechen/ and in Slovak it used to be veľky sečeň /velky sechen/ not Január. Nowadays Slovene language uses januar, however the archaic form is prosinec and Macedonian uses Jануари /yanuari/ but the archaic name is Коложег /kolozheg/. 

You might start thinking, what is the reason to talk about archaic forms which no one uses anymore? 

The thing is that there are a few Slavic languages which still use the names derived from the Old Slavic language and Czech language is one them. 

Let’s have a look at the table of such Slavic languages and the words they use: 

UKRAINIAN

BELARUSIAN

CROATIAN

POLISH

CZECH

Січень

Студзень

Siječanj

Styczeń

Leden

Лютий

Люты

Veljača

Luty

Únor

Березень

Сакавік

Ožujak

Marzec

Březen

Квітень

Красавік

Travanj

Kwiecień

Duben

Травень

Май

Svibanj

Maj

Květen

Червень

Чэрвень

Lipanj

Czerwiec

Červen

Липень

Ліпень

Srpanj

Lipiec

Červenec

Серпень

Жнівень

Kolovoz

Sierpień

Srpen

Вересень

Верасень

Rujan

Wrzesień

Září

Жовтень

Кастрычнік

Listopad

Październik

Říjen

Листопад

Лістапад

Studeni

Listopad

Listopad

Грудень

Снежань

Prosinac

Grudzień

Prosinec

As you probably noticed, both similarities and differences can be found. What is especially interesting is that some words are almost the same but they stand for different months. For example, all of the five languages use the word Listopad or another highly similar form, however four of them – Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish and Czech use it for November, however Croatian uses it for October. In all of these languages the name could be translated as “leaf-falling (month)”. 

Which brings us to the meaning behind these names. 

The Latin months were named after gods, Roman emperors, holidays and numbers, except for AprilAprilis, which derives from the word aperire, which means “to open” and it symbolises “opening of buds (trees’ and plants’ buds)”. 

The Slavic names are all like this – quite practically oriented and therefore describe significant natural happenings of that time or the main activities done that time. 

Now you probably have an idea, what stands behind those name shifts. Different Slavic tribes lived at different places on the European continent which varied also in their climates and weather conditions. 

The land of contemporary Croatia is considerably more in the East than the others and has a warmer climate in comparison to the rest of lands where Ukrainian, Belorusian, Polish and Czech have been spoken. Therefore a few Croatian months are shifted compared to the others. 

You can also notice that Ukrainian and Polish use words Квітень /kveeten/ and Kwieceń, which can be translated as “blossoming (month)”,  for the fourth month of the year (April), however Czech uses it for the fifth month (May).

It is also possible to find the names which are unique for the particular language, such as Leden, Únor či Září in Czech. These unique forms might also reflect some important weather conditions, happenings or activities done by people in a certain time and a certain place as well as a certain historical development of each language. 

For example, although names of Czech months are derived from old Slavic language, it hasn’t been earlier than during 18. century as the result of National Revival, when the names got codified in the forms we use today. 

The Czech National Revival focused on the revival of the Czech language which was suppressed by massive germanisation. 

As you can see, it is never just the language, just the words, the language is always a reflection of particular historical cultural development in the context of historical developments of other cultures. Therefore, it is and will stay one of the most complex man made phenomena. 

Thank you for reading! 

SOURCES:

BOOKS: 

REJZEK, Jiří. Zrození češtiny: jazyková situace a jazykový vývoj v českých zemích mezi 6. a 11. stoletím. Praha: NLN, 2021. ISBN 978-80-7422-799-8

SŁAWSKI, Franciszek (ed.). Słownik prasłowiański. Wrocław: Zakład narodowy imienia Ossolińskich, 1995. ISBN 83-04-00464-X

WEBSITES: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_calendar

https://www.infoplease.com/calendars/months-seasons/names-months

https://wanderinghelene.com/month-names-in-slovenian/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Germanic_calendars

https://jazykovyservis.cz/puvod-ceskych-jmen-mesicu-kveten/

https://www.abczech.cz/Ceske-nazvy-mesicu-P7035914.html#:~:text=České%20názvy%20měs%C3%ADců%20byly%20ustáleny,při%20studiu%20prvn%C3%ADho%20ciz%C3%ADho%20jazyka.

https://www.lingohut.com/en